Many businesses have had to scale back since the pandemic started – but Meals on Wheels West has seen significant growth. “We’re serving more people than we ever have,” says Chris Baca, Executive Director of Meals on Wheels West (MOWW).
The nonprofit, which delivers meals and supports services for independent living, has seen a 45% growth in clients since the pandemic began. Their client bases have doubled in Venice and the Pacific Palisades, and increased in the other areas they serve: Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, and Malibu.
People are often surprised to learn that the nonprofit has so many clients in these areas, but Chris notes, “There’s hidden hunger, even in the most affluent communities.” Chris suggests checking in with neighbors during social distancing when people have less visibility. “You can enroll a neighbor in the Meals on Wheels program,” he says, and “just knowing your neighbors goes a long way.”
Meals on Wheels West “is not just for seniors,” Chris explains. The service also supports people who live with mental and physical health issues, those who face difficult economic circumstances, and veterans of all ages.
Many who use the service are part of the populations to whom the coronavirus poses the most risk. “People see Meals on Wheels as one of the frontline responders,” Chris says. Since March, Meals on Wheels West has hired additional staff and gone from one to five suppliers to accommodate both the increased demand and changes in the supply chain. Where they used to provide only hot meals, they now provide hot, frozen, and shelf-stable meals, as well as meal-replacement shakes. They have also partnered with the Westside Food Bank to provide emergency boxes of groceries.
The pandemic has changed how Meals on Wheels West operates. They have gone from delivering five days a week to three days in order to minimize points of contact. “We’ve taken really strong preventive measures and are very careful to protect our clients and volunteers,” Chris describes. They have also instituted rigorous cleaning and social distancing procedures, providing masks and gloves to their staff and volunteers.
“We couldn’t do this without the support of the community and volunteers,” Chris adds, citing the influx of support they have received during the pandemic. “The City of Santa Monica, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, foundations, and companies have helped us cover the costs of these many new clients.” Volunteers from several tech companies, including Google, Amazon, and Snap, have also joined in to conduct “phone wellness checks” twice a week. The calls provide a personal check-in for homebound clients to augment the delivery service and refer them to other resources if needed.
To provide all of these vital services, Chris says, “I’m lucky to have a great staff and wonderful support.” To learn more about donating or volunteering, visit www.mealsonwheelswest.org.
By Anne Wallentine